Jack Prince has lived a life that the Robin Williams character in “Good Morning, Vietnam” could appreciate.
Prince was stationed with the U.S. Army in occupied Japan following World War II, and by day he worked as a newspaper writer covering football games between units and divisions.
At night, however, he was a radio DJ spinning music records for the American servicemen longing for a sense of home.
“I called myself the ‘Mayor of Sendai,’” he said, noting that the moniker was inspired by a DJ he grew up listening to around Charlotte, North Carolina.
Prince and Teresa Wilder, a former nurse in the U.S. Army who served from 1978 to 1998, were honored Tuesday night during an early Thanksgiving dinner at Loretta’s Catering and Venue in Oakwood hosted by the local Veterans and Community Outreach Foundation.
“I think a lot of times we forget about their sacrifices,” said the Rev. Victor Lamar Johnson, the Outreach Foundation founder and a Vietnam-era Army veteran, adding that the service of veterans allows all Americans to continue to safely go to work, church and school. “They are the real heroes.”
Prince relocated to Gainesville a few years after returning home from Japan. He made a name for himself in the local poultry industry, first as vice president of marketing and new product development for J.D. Jewell Inc.
In the mid-1960s, Prince made a brief foray into politics, running for U.S. Congress. He lost that race, but in the process helped launch the career of a young Newt Gingrich, who had served as his campaign manager.
“I wearied of politics pretty quick,” Prince joked.
Later, Prince ventured out on his own and developed innovations in mechanical deboning of chicken. His only son continues to run the family business today.
“I was blessed with opportunities,” Prince said.
Wilder, meanwhile, graduated from Gainesville High School in 1976. She’s a proud Red Elephant, she said.
After joining the Army, Wilder completed four tours of duty overseas as a nurse, working in Belgium, the Netherlands, South Korea and Germany.
She later worked as a nurse in the private sector, including at The Longstreet Clinic in Gainesville.
Wilder said she’s appreciative of the support she receives as a veteran, particularly because Vietnam veterans that preceded her did not receive the same recognition when they returned home.
“It's changed quite a bit,” she added. “The community, the country, we do owe them respect and honor. I received more of a welcome. It's truly a blessing.”